Game of Thrones garnered eight million viewers to set a record for its season five premiere. While many applauded the record setting numbers for HBO’s headliner, the result does not capture the show’s true velocity of impact.
Plotting the basic viewership of Game of Thrones over time displays a linear pattern. The steady growth and accounting for the extra lifts seen during season premieres, reveals that the eight million viewers achieved is within the expected trajectory for the first episode in the show’s fifth season.
HBO added its new streaming service this month in anticipation of Game of Thrones’ return. With this in place prior to the season premiere, one would expect to see a boost among the audience that tuned in. However, this lift is not reflected in the TV ratings.
We turned to Facebook and pulled user engagement data for the show back to the beginning of the series since a steady growth does not seem to explain the contagion that is Game of Thrones. Indeed, a different pattern emerges. Facebook engagements grow exponentially throughout the series, familiar to how populations actually grow and viral content spreads. The Facebook data also reveals that the unprecedented access HBO granted with their blockbuster cord-cutting product did provide a jolt to the start of the current season.
Viewership numbers also miss critical events that social data uncovers. Not only does viewership data lack the granularity for brands to understand television highlights and lowlights, it misses pivotal episodes. The unforgettable Red Wedding in season three is indistinguishable in TV viewership data, but is completely evident in the Facebook engagement data.
Relying on a single figure like viewership in a fragmented media landscape gives a narrow understanding of consumer behavior. Social data is more layered and flexible, which makes it essential when trying to comprehend people’s actions. Furthermore, social data provides unprecedented capabilities for identifying connections across audiences, media outlets, and brands.